Glenn's Pens

About Pens

A fountain pen is fascinating.

While a fountain pen may look very straight forward, a "tube" with a nib stuck on the end, but it is actually a more complex invention. The delicacy of gravity-based ink flow, numerous parts all made to precision.

The fountain pen is composed of many parts. All have to fit together perfectly. This is no small feat. As the pen is held in the hand, there is a precise tactile test to meet. When you hold a pen, you will immediately feel is something is not right.

The feel is one of the aspects that you can notice between an expensive and lower-priced pen.

So not only is a fountain pen complex and different because of the multiple parts used in its design... clips, bands, caps, ink feeds, nibs, filling sysems etc., but it is also different from a disposable pen. You will keep your fountain pens for year. Most likely, you will pass it down to a friend of family member.

It also becomes "your" pen. You carry it around with you. It becomes one of your possessions. It is not use a plastic pen that is tossed when no longer needed.

The writing experience is very much defined as to how the pen sits in your hand and how the nib and the ink flows across the paper.

An evolution.

The fountain pen has made quite the evolution. Starting as a quill. The pen then progressed to a pen using steel nibs that were attached to a stick and dipped in ink.

The pen next progressed to a writing instrument that actually held its own ink. With this step the pen became portable.

The first pens had a range of problems. Getting the ink to flow our in a controlled way was one of the primary challenges.

In 1870 Lewis Edson Waterman invented the now famous system ink system to control the flow of ink from the ink chamber to the nib. He developed a three-channel feed that would allow air to travel up into the ink chamber, releasing the vacuum and allowing ink to flow, and not gush out.

Pens went through some innovations. At one time the only way to get the ink into the pen was to use an eyedropper. Then pens progressed so that ink could be drawn up into the pen body through the nib.

Various ink filling mechanisms came along all basically pushing air our of a chamber to create a vacuum to pull the ink into the chamber. Eventually, even a cartridge to hold ink was invented.

What we have today are well engineered fountain pens which, overall, need only a reasonable amount of care to provide a lasting writing experience for the owner.

Pelikan 4001


I am not a chemist, but as it has been explained to me, celluloid is a vegetable derivative that is produced by combining cellulose with nitric acid and camphor.

It produces beautiful pens, but has it challenges in terms of a material to work with. The companies I have visited all showed how they store their celluloid rods in steel cabinets, or separate buildings, outside the main factory. That is because it is so unstable. I can attest to the pronounced small of camphor from the rods.

The curing is the skill. If the celluloid is not cured correctly, the celluloid will continue to loose moisture and shrink. The pieces are places in trays in ovens and baked for very long periods of time, at low temperatures.

When I visited with OMAS they explained the process in detail. It takes about 350+ days to make a celluloid pen.



Celluloid being baked on trays

This is a photo of the celluloid ovens at the Montegrappa pen factory in Italy. In the trays are the various drilled pieces of celluloid. The baking in a long, controlled process.



Your good pens, whether ball point, mechanical pencil, roller boll or fountain pen should receive good and proper care.

The finish of the the pen is specific to the type of material used, but as a general rule: only clean the body of the pen with a soft cloth and water. Do not use any type of cleaning fluid as you could damage the finish of the pen.

If the pen has sterling silver trim, then clean the silver with a silver polishing cloth. If you have to use silver cleaner, put some on the cloth, as opposed to the pen body.

Lacquers are often though as being delicate surfaces, but they are in fact quite durable. Use soft cloths to clean these pens, never any abrasive cleaners or chemical compounds.

Don't Leave Filled and Unused

It is best not to leave pens filled with ink, and not being used. That means if you have a number of pens, you will need a little discipline in terms of the rotation of your pens. If you are not going to use the pen, then empty it of ink, and give the pen a flush with water. Better to fill it up when you ready to use it and then use it, rather than spend time trying to unclog a pen where ink has dried up in the feed system.

Stand Pens Vertically

If you are going to store a fountain pen for a period of time, then flush the ink out of the pen, and pens are better if they are stored standing vertical. This means the nib is pointing up in the cap of the pen. What ink/moisture there is will flow down out of the tiny channels.

Flush on a Regular Basis

It is a good idea to give a fountain pen a good flush every month or so. This means, pulling in and pushing out the existing ink with good straight tap water.

Then dry out the nib and ink mechanism by putting a ball of paper tower in a class and standing the pen, nib down. The paper tower will help to pull out the water from the nib and feed chambers.

Letting the pen sit vertically in some paper towel is a great way to draw out the water and any old ink from the pen.

Lukewarm Water Rather than Hot Water

Use lukewarm water, never hot. Hot water could impact seals in the pen.

If the pen is clogged, and after a flush of water there is still an ink flow problem, then I let the nib section stand in a glass of water for an hour or so.

I am always amazed at the trail of ink that flows. But do not do with pens made from rubber or casein pens (it looks like plastic but made from protein). Prolonged period of time in water could damage the pen.

Even after the nib is rinsed, as the photo to the right shows, if the nib section is left in a glass of room temperature water, within minutes streams of old ink will start to flow out.

Testing the Nib

If you have not used the pen for a while, and you go to write with it and no ink flows, don't just press harder and harder on the paper to get the flow going. You may damage the nib. Make short strokes diagonally across the paper. Use the same pressure as your write. The strokes will activate the flow. If nothing happens, then dip the nib in some water.

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